By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian
The luminous copper glint around the edges of Monte Dolack’s latest collection provides the first hint these paintings have more than two dimensions.
The 20 images in “Altered State” combine Dolack’s eye for an iconic Montana landscape with his sly instinct for an ironic double-take. They juxtapose the reflective waters of the Missouri River with the smokestacks of Great Falls’ refinery along its banks. A magpie perches on a petroleum pipeline warning post. A view of the cliffs along the Smith River withholds any hint of a joke, until you realize the painting is framed by crushed coal. And that glint? The scenes are painted on sheets of copper.
“The personal history of my family and a lot of people who have connections to the mining history of the Anaconda Mining Company are in these paintings,” Dolack said. “My grandfather was a coal miner out of Stockett. My father worked at the Anaconda copper refinery in Great Falls.”
Even his color choices do double-duty. A view of Butte’s Berkeley Pit uses the reds, yellows, oranges, purples and blues generated by the toxic heavy metals in the rising groundwater there. And Dolack specifically chose paints that would let some glow from the underlying copper seep through.
Great Falls woodworker Julie Tippets made the frames, which are basswood covered with an eight-step patina of coal dust, iron oxide and varnish. The result gives a stone-like texture to the wood surrounding the luminous paintings.
“We have these coal trains going through town every day – millions of tons of coal – but have you ever tried to buy a piece of coal?” Dolack asked. “You can’t get any.”
The first two sculptures Dolack has produced bookend the exhibit. “Fossil Fueled II” is a child’s toy Hummer car studded bumper to bumper with the necks, legs and tails of hundreds of plastic dinosaurs. “T-Wrecks” complements it with a Tyrannosaurus Rex made of little metal cars.
“I spent about three years collecting these cars from my nephews and nieces and friends and their kids,” Dolack said. “Some of them are really hard to find. When I was making the tail, I realized I needed smaller cars, and a friend had some of these Tootsie Toy cars that were just right. But when I needed some more, I found out how rare they are. There’s maybe a thousand dollar’s worth of toy cars in here.”
The collection is the largest group of new works Dolack has produced in years. After a debut at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, the whole show is in his Missoula gallery on Front Street for a First Friday opening on May 2.